As the new cadets of the Class of 2024 completed their Cadet Basic Training with March Back Aug. 10 at West Point, several hundred U.S. Military Academy graduates provided synergy by performing a Virtual March Back in locations across the country to motivate the newest members of the academy.
Every year, hundreds of USMA graduates, including a heavy dose of 50-year class affiliate members — through the West Point Association of Graduates — return to West Point to do a 12-mile road march on the final day of CBT, also known as March Back. This year, however, with the COVID-19 pandemic still a menace throughout the United States, the old grads were not allowed to participate at West Point with the new cadets on their march.
The route changed for the Class of 2024 as 1,099 new cadets did the march on post only instead of beginning at Camp Buckner as in years past, which also shortened the length of the march from 12 to nine miles. Consequently, from Aug. 8-10, from the coast of California to the white mountains of New Hampshire to Florida and Alaska, hundreds of ‘Old Grads’ rucked to join their new brethren during the Virtual March Back.
The impetus of the Virtual March Back grew from a bond forged on a Facebook Group called, Old Grad Strong. The group is open to all West Point graduates and their spouses or partners who are committed to the continued pursuit of optimal health and fitness.
The group moderator, Paul Reilly, a USMA 1989 graduate, founded the group in early 2020 to create a forum that would support and encourage other USMA graduates to stay fit.
“I had been contemplating starting a group like Old Grad Strong for several months,” Reilly said. “The desire for more connection and a forum where we could share experiences and find support were my main objectives.
“Fitness and nutrition are my profession and I work with dozens of grads,” Reilly, who owns a company called MidStrong with his wife, Julie, added. “It seemed like a natural next step to try to unite the community of old grads around a common theme of optimal health and fitness.”
The decision to march virtually with the new cadets began in late May after the Old Grad Strong group completed a virtual Memorial Day 5K.
Reilly said that turned out to be a big success and the group was enthusiastic to do something else. The group also expanded exponentially, he added, from Memorial Day after the 5K from about 150 people to more than 1,100 members currently.
“We’ll be doing virtual challenges throughout the year to correspond with key events and dates,” Reilly said.
As the old grads executed their marches throughout the country, Reilly was joined by his wife and covered 15 miles along the Pemigewasset River in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire. The Westborough, Massachusetts, native who branched Engineers in the Army was excited that all this came together, which included members of the Old Grad Strong group who have sons and daughters in the Class of 2024, and three of them were classmates of Reilly — David Siegal, Fritz Hager and Adrienne Ruggles Eckstein.
“The spirit behind the Virtual March Back was to foster … solidarity with the plebe Class of 2024 and getting out and being active to push back against the depredations of Father time,” Reilly said. “We particularly felt a desire to ‘march back’ with this plebe class, knowing that this time-honored right of passage would be a different experience for them due to the impact of the pandemic.
“Many of the old grads who participated have sons and daughters in the Class of 2024,” he added. “Other classes, especially those from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, who have participated in recent live March Backs with their 50-year affiliate classes, were enthusiastic to relive that experience and emotionally connect with the newest members of the Long Gray Line as they completed what must have been one of the most unique CBT Beast Barracks experiences in the history of our alma mater.”
Now, after Acceptance Day Saturday, the members of the Class of 2024 are officially plebes and no longer new cadets. As the journey continues for another 46 months beyond the last steps taken at March Back, Reilly offers a few words of advice to the newbies on their continued trek at West Point.